The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 13, 2013

Gunmen kidnap seven Red Cross workers in Syria

(Continued)

Syria's bloody conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, forced more than 2 million Syrians to flee the country and caused untold suffering — psychological, emotional and physical — across the nation.

Outside Damascus, hundreds of civilians, some carried on stretchers, fled the besieged rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh on Saturday and Sunday following a temporary cease-fire in the area, activists and officials said.

It was not immediately clear who brokered the halt in fighting between rebels and government forces, but the temporary truce marked a rare case of coordination between the opposing sides in Syria's civil war.

"It's (been) an area of military operations for months, so to see this halt of fire, and to see this exodus of people, means there's a high level cooperation — not regular cooperation," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Neither Syrian officials nor activists close to rebels would discuss the coordination.

Syria's state news agency SANA said Saturday that 2,000 women and children left the suburb for temporary housing in the nearby suburb of Qudsaya.

An official with the Syrian Red Crescent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said another 1,000 people were evacuated Sunday. Those figures could not be independently verified.

For the thousands of people trapped in Moadamiyeh, the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating for months. In a bid to squeeze rebels there, Syrian forces blocked food and supplies from entering the district on the western edge of Damascus.

The suburb's residents have been hit hard. Activists from the Moadamiyeh Media Center reported six people died of starvation in September: two women and four children. One woman described how her 18-month-old daughter lost half her weight as she struggled to nourish her on boiled lentil water.

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